The psychological aspect of organ donation in the current scenario

Organ donation is considered the highest form of sacrifice a human can make in their life. The process involves the donation of healthy organs and tissues from one person to another in need. There are two types of donation that can take place – live donation and cadaver donation. Live donations are mostly seen among family members and close relatives. In cadaver donation, when the patient is declared brain dead, the next-of-kin is approached for organ donation. Prior consent plays an important role in cadaver donation. In the current scenario, the donation rate for cadaver donation is increasing. Around 20-30% increase has been observed in the post-COVID era.

Various Aspects of Organ Donation:

When it comes to donating an organ, there are various aspects linked such as religious and socio-cultural beliefs and psychological and ethical dilemmas that may influence the decision of organ donation. Most religions consider donation a sacred act. In Hinduism, Lord Ganesha is considered the “God of Transplant Surgery” because he was the first to receive an elephant head (a non-human transplant). In our practice, we have observed monks coming to donate their organs and help somebody (called altruistic donation). In their belief, donating an organ is the best sacrifice or gift one can give to somebody else.

The Age Perspective of Organ Donation:

Although there is no age limit for making an organ donation, people above 65 years of age have less possibility of the acceptance of their organs due to health reasons. It is also true that younger people are more fit to donate, but there have been instances of donors donating their organs at much older ages (the oldest donor was 95 years old – USA). Thus, they can’t be ruled out from donating their organs; all that is required is to sign up for donation separately or through an NGO or while applying for Driver’s License or other ID certification.

It is also noted that younger people come forward to donate quite often than aged people, but, parents’ disapproval of the same comes as a hindrance. The main reason why most parents don’t approve of accepting an organ from their kids or letting them donate is the fear of health-related problems in later life.

Male psychology and female psychology

Various research says that female donation is relatively higher than male globally. Among females, most donations come from mothers to sons/daughters and wives to husbands. Many times, they ask no questions in order to take care of their families at any cost. Women are known to be more emotionally connected in this case.

There is a common misconception that donating an organ has a negative impact on health in later life and the fact that men are the breadwinners is what deprives them of making organ donations. Contrary to this belief, organ donation is actually safe and there is no negative impact on health.

Ethical dilemmas for patients and their relatives:

There are ethical dilemmas attached while deciding on donating organs. This happens mostly in cadaver donations because the families are not in a situation to decide on anything. Sometimes, the family of the deceased doesn’t accept that s/he is brain dead or they think that donating organs may mutilate the body which is absolutely not true. To handle situations like these, hospitals have counselors (and critical care health experts) who can help and make them realize that their loved ones, even though, are not alive, they may live in other people’s bodies.

There are times when the family refuses to donate the organs even when the deceased have given consent which is ethically not correct. They should, instead, honour the decision of the deceased and consider organ donation as an opportunity to help others. Few countries like Spain have implemented regulations for automatic donation where all deceased individuals above 18 are considered organ donors.

Going forward…

At present, organ donation is the only way people can live on in someone else’s body. Educating the people and spreading awareness of organ donation can be the way forward to increased organ donations. When people will be aware of the fact that they can save the lives of more than ten people by donating their organs which is the greatest deed anyone can do in a lifetime, there will be much more instances of organ donations than in the present scenario.

This article is authored by Dr. Vishwanath S, HOD & Consultant – Nephrology, Transplant Physician, Manipal Hospital Old Airport Road

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